Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Day of Poetry and the Language of the Earth

Here are some of the books and readings I have been savoring today while exploring ideas of earth regenerative education design:
• Abram, D. (2010). Becoming animal: An earthly cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books.
• Berry, W. (2010). Imagination in place: Essays. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.
• Berry, W. (2010). Leavings: Poems. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.
• Dillard, A. (1982). Teaching a stone to talk: Expeditions and encounters. New York: Harper & Row.
• Haines, J. M. (1981). Living off the country: Essays on poetry and place. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Here are some of the quotes that sparked me during these readings:

David Abrams in his new book Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, in his chapter on "The Speech of Things":
  • Abrams on Gaia:

    "An eternity we thought was elsewhere now calls out to us from every cleft in every stone, from every cloud and clump of dirt. To lend our ears to the dripping glaciers—to come awake to the voices of the silence—is to be turned inside out, discovering to our astonishment that the wholeness and holiness we'd been dreaming our way towards has been holding us all along, that the secret and the sacred One that moves behind all the many traditions is none other than this animate immensity that enfolds us, this spherical eternity, glimpsed at last in its unfathomable wholeness and complexity, in its sensitivity and its sentience." David Abram, 2010, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, pp. 180-181

  • Abrams on Speech and Embodiment:

    167 "My encounter with the sea creatures had initiated me into a layer of language much older, and deeper, than words. It was a dimension of expressive meanings that were directly felt by the body, a realm wherein the body itself speaks—by the tonality and rhythm of its sounds, by its gestures, even by the expressive potency of its poise….an older, animal awareness came to the fore, responding spontaneously to the gestures of these other animals with hardly any interpolation by my 'interior' thinking mind. It was rather as if my body itself was doing the thinking, trading vocal utterances and physical expressions back and forth with these other smooth-skinned and sentient creatures."

  • 167 (bottom) "To the fully embodied animal any movement might be a gesture, and any sound may be a voice, a meaningful utterance of the world. And hence to my own creaturely flesh, as well, everything speaks!"

  • 168 "this animal dimension of my own speaking…the gruff or giddy melody that steadily sounds through my phrases, and the dance enacted by my body as I speak—the open astonishment or slumped surrender, the wary stealth of the lanky ease. Trying to articulate a fresh insight, I feel my way toward the precise phrase with the whole of my flesh, drawn toward certain terms by the way their texture beckons dimly to senses, choosing words by the way they fit the shape of that insight, or by the way they finally taste on my tongue as I intone them one after another. And the power of that spoken phrase to provoke insights in those around me will depend upon the timbre of my talking, the way it jives with the collective mood or merely jangles their ears."

  • 172-3 "It follows that the myriad things are also listening or attending to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel that we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care—this full-bodied alertness—is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world's unfolding."

  • 173 "sense of inhabiting an articulate landscape—of dwelling within a community of expressive presences that are also attentive, and listening, to the meanings that move between them—is common to indigenous, oral peoples on every continent."

  • 175: "Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us—and it they still try, we will not likely hear them. They withdraw from our attentions, and soon refrain from encountering us when we're out wandering, or from visiting us in our dreams. We can no longer avail ourselves of their perspectives or their guidance, and our human affairs suffer as a result. We become ever more forgetful in our relations with the rest of the biosphere, an obliviousness that cuts us off from ourselves, and from our deepest sources of sustenance."

  • "We now know, however, that the tangible world is itself such an iridescent sphere turning silent among the stars, a round mystery whose life is utterly eternal relative to ours, from out of whose vastness our momentary lives are born, and into whose vastness our lives—like those of our ancestors, our enemies, and our children—all recede, like waves on the surface of the sea." (p. 180)

Wendell Berry on Poetry and Silence:

  • Section 8, 2008 - Untitled, from Leavings

    Poem, do not raise your voice.

    Be a whisper that says "There!"

    where the stream speaks to itself

    of the deep rock of the hill

    it has carved its way down to

    in flowing over them. "There!"

    where the sun enters and the tanager

    flares suddenly on the lighted branch,

    "There!" where the aerial columbine

    brightens on its slender stalk.

    Walk, poem. Watch, and make no noise.

    Wendell Berry

    Leavings, 2010, p. 95

Wendell Berry on Speech and Silence:

  • Essay: "Speech after Long Silence" (1994) appearing in

    Berry, W. (2010). Imagination in place: Essays. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.

    "The explainers of language of poetry will be forever embarrassed, I hope, by the experience of readers of poetry: Poems tell more than they say. They convey, as if mutely, the condition of the mind that made them, and this is a large part of their meaning and worth. Mr. Haines' poems, as I heard them that evening, told that they were the work of a mind that had taught itself to be quiet for a long time. His lines were qualified unremittingly by a silence that they came from and were going toward, and that for a moment broke. One felt that the words had come down onto the page one at a time, like slow drops from a dripping eave, making their assured small sounds, the sounds accumulating. The poems seemed to have been made with a patience like that with which rivers freeze or lichens cover stones. Within the condition of long-accepted silence, each line had been acutely listened for, and then acutely listened to." (Berry, 2010, pp. 49-50)

    "The attendant silence thus becomes the enabling condition of a kind of language and a kind of knowledge." (p. 51)

Annie Dillard on the Vibrant Silence of Nature:
  • Dillard, A. (1982). Teaching a stone to talk: Expeditions and encounters. New York: Harper & Row.

  • "it is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate the grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry, and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of earth, and living things say very little to very few. Birds may crank out sweet gibberish and monkeys howl; horses neigh and pigs say, as you recall, oink oink. But so do cobbles rumble when a wave recedes, and thunder breaks the air in lightning storms. I call these noises silence. It could be that wherever this is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water—and wherever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God's speaking from the whirlwind, nature's old song and dance, the show we drove from town. At any rate, now it is all we can do, among our best efforts, to try to teach a given human language, English, to chimpanzees…" (p. 88)

  • "At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, to the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world's word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep—just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don't do it. There is a vibrancy to this silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life's length to its listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression; instead, it is all there is." Dillard, pp. 89-90

  • p. 94: "The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God's brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blended note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction, to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to "World." Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing."

This passage from Haines reminded me of Craig Chalquists's work in Terrapsychology (such as in Chalquist, C., & Gomes, M. E. (2007). Terrapsychology: Re-engaging the soul of place. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books. ):
  • Haines, J. M. (1981). Living off the country: Essays on poetry and place. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

which Berry had quoted in his Imagination in Place essay on "Speech After Long Silence":

  • "What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky as writers, and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own…I have come to feel that there is here in North America a hidden place obscured by what we have built upon it, and that whenever we penetrate the surface of the life around us that place and its spirit can be found."